All it takes is a few minutes on YouTube, and I hear the common message, “Your thoughts control your feelings”. “Change your mindset, change your life”! Though there may be some truth in those statements, I find them to be somewhat misleading. Especially if you have had some difficult experiences in your past.
Think about it. If you were to close your eyes and think about your ideal life, what comes up for you? Common responses include having money. Having a successful career. Having connections with loved one’s.
And where do you think these ideas come from? Chances are, your ideal life is based on moments of pleasure. Or at least, the absence of pain. For example, why do we think we need enough money? If you live in North America, then money is presented as the answer to all your pain. If you had more money, you would have less stress, less problems, less concerns, so naturally you would be happier. Or so we think.
Somewhere along the way, you go the idea that money can help. That money would make things better, easier, less painful. Which probably means that you have experienced a time when you did not have enough money. Or at least a time when a bit more money felt like a solution to a problem. So really, the thought about needing money is based on an emotion that is already inside of you. On emotion that is already there.
Here’s another example. I love popcorn. If I close my eyes and think about popcorn, how it smells, how it feels in my mouth, I feel really good inside. Why? Because I love popcorn. I have eaten it and experienced it. I know this!
Unfortunately, I had to stop eating popcorn due to some health issues. For me, that is the ONLY thing that could get me to stop eating popcorn. I mean, what is a movie without popcorn! Why even bother going to the theater if you can’t have popcorn. But do you think that thinking I should not eat popcorn was enough to change my mind about the delicacy? If I were to close my eyes and think that popcorn was awful, unpleasant, disgusting, do you think that would work? Can my thoughts control my emotions.
Not. A. Chance.
Why? Because I experienced the joy of eating popcorn. And this is imprinted in my brain. My brain has been wired to love popcorn. All because I have experienced this and it is programmed in the emotion centres of my brain. This will always outweigh thinking!
The only hope for thought is if the emotion losses its power, its intensity! Which is possible, but not by thinking it different. It takes a bit of work and effort, but it can be done.
And how does this play in with managing your emotions and behaviour? The attempt to control emotions by managing your behaviour is a mere coping strategy. It is not an answer. Emotions can be suppressed, but that is all you are doing, is suppressing. Like pushing a ball under water. It will eventually come and hit you in the face.
Emotions are a communicator. They are talking to you. And usually, the language is a story, a narrative from the past. Whenever your body has an overwhelming experience, it stores an imprint, like a code, of the physiological reaction of that moment. So when you feel emotional in the present, it always has a bit of the past mixed in there.
We often try to target the behaviour alone. I need to be more patient with my partner. I need to stop eating more, exercise more, criticize less. But we forget, that our behaviours are most often driven by emotion. If we identify the underlying emotion, and have compassion for ourself, it can be liberating. If we expect that we have rough patches, instead of worried that we always perform well, we can be a stronger support for ourself. And then, for others around us.
Be with your emotion. Embrace your emotion. It will pass. It is just a wave of energy from the past, and it will pass. Be there for you!
Being there for ourself is the most rewarding experience that we can have as a human being. To know that you’re doing the best you can. That you are on this journey of growth. Which means there will be mistakes and mishaps along the way. But hey! At least your moving forward with the greatest of company. Which is YOU!